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Garden city

The majestic Gulmohar... in Cubbon Park.

BANGALORE, the Garden City, the paradoxical metro set atop the Deccan Plateau, a city that is more the remnant of a jungle tamed into vast parklands, the playground of a posh society. Existing from time immemorial, the present day city proper was land gifted by a Vijayanagar king to Kempegowda, a dynamic local chieftain. Generating income from the land to build the city, Kempegowda invited artisans and weavers to live in the township created by him, thereby laying the foundation for the city's unique artistic grace.

The city's name has its origin in a tale. King Veera Ballala was lost while on a hunting trip. He came upon the dwelling of a poor woman, who generously shared her simple meal of bende kaalu boiled beans. Bangalore is said to be a mispronunciation of this term. Botanists however beg to differ,and in this city almost everyone is an amateur botanist — a passion for plants and flowers rules the heart here. They think the tree Benga (Indian Kino) is responsible for the city's name — Bengaluru still exists in Kodigahalli, not Hebbal.

With its fantastic climate influenced by a 1,000-metre altitude above sea level, Bangalore may have the ideal conditions to encourage the growth of greenery. This was tapped in 1780 by Hyder Ali, who created the magnificent Lal Bagh, today a spectacular 240 acres of parkland. His son, Tipu Sultan, considered by many to have been a rare despot, brought in exotic plant specimens in 1000's to plant in these gardens. Roses were a weakness. The British brought in gardeners from the Kew Gardens to help beautify the layout, and added the Glass House, based on the Crystal Palace, London. A marvellous structure, it plays host to the annual prestigious flower show.

Eye-catcher ... the Shefflara.

Today's Bangalore is a bustling city, still retaining its wide well planned avenues in the main areas, and twisting lanes in a rural atmosphere in the somewhat poorer areas. The vibrant Gulmohar (flame of the forest tree) is what greets the visitor to the city. The mauve jacaranda blooms in joyous abandon amid the red gulmohar. Giant trees that are laden with yellow flowers form a fallen carpet along roadsides, and in the parks. Entire streets have been planted with Legerstromia in cool shades of pinks and purples, now in glorious bloom. Huge spreading trees with long sprays of shaded pink flowers form a dense canopy, when seen from above. The roads of Bangalore are a unique visual splendour, the result of years of careful planning.

Florists abound, supplied by market gardeners from just outside the city. Early mornings bring truckloads of fresh flowers into the city markets — City and Russell. Asters, marigolds, roses, jasmine, carnations, gomphrena and the local magnolia all delight the eye, and senses. Indeed, if leaving town by train, one's last memory could well be that of a flower seller rushing to you along the platform, trying to sell you a string of creamy magnolia flowers, wrapped in a fresh plantain leaf. What better farewell could there be to a traveller?!

Bangalore is a city that just grows on you, the way its trees have grown, to tower over the landscape. Its colours and moods thrill the soul, ever changing in a reassuring regular manner, season after season, without fail.

An early morning walk in Cubbon Park could well make one a tree enthusiast, in no time at all. The garden city is a rarity, a well-planned gem, in myriad hues peculiar to nature, quite impossible to duplicate.

Text and pictures by RUPA GOPAL

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